Programming alert: Tune into Comcast SportsNet Bay Area today at 1 p.m. as the Giants take on the A's!
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. When a career infielder is asked topatrol the outfield, there is nothing liberating about all that wide-open space.
More like terrifying.
This spring, Brett Pill is trying to cover it as best hecan. Despite all of two career games (and one chance) in the outfield over hissix-year professional career, the Giants are hoping Pill can flag down theroutine stuff in left field, adding to his versatility as hes being consideredfor a bench role on the Giants opening-day roster.
A solid defensive first baseman, hes also taking groundballs at third base and second base. And hes uttering nary a complaint aboutit.
Liberating? Terrifying? None of it matters when you figuredyoud be out of baseball in 2012.
I was off the (40-man) roster. I was going to Double-A,said Pill, considering his meager place at this time last year. I wasnthaving any fun.
I was taking it like it was my last year.
The background: Pill was not considered apremium prospect out of Cal State Fullerton, but the Giants added him to the40-man roster after a banner 2009 season (.298, 109 RBIs at Double-A) toprotect him from being snagged in the Rule 5 draft. It was the best and worstthing that happened to him. Being on the 40-man only made him anxious to provehimself worthy of a call-up that never came in 2010.
I beat myself up, Pill said. I saw my average on thescoreboard and I didnt let myself have fun at all. We had a really good team,actually, at Fresno and I shouldve been enjoying it. But I was too individual.I was trying to get called up and it didnt happen.
He had an unimpressive season in the hitter-friendly PacificCoast League, which might be permissible for a first-round pick but not aself-made prospect like Pill. So he found himself designated for assignmentwhen it was over, sacrificed so his roster space could go to someone else worthprotecting.
Any team couldve taken him. All of them passed.
In the spring of 2011, Pill found himself back in minorleague camp, a 26-year-old lockering next to teenagers. He was working out withthe Double-A group at Indian School Park a clear sign of what theorganization thought of him. He figured this would be his last hurrah beforefinding some other line of work.
Like what, exactly?
Ah, well, I didnt get that far, he said, with a laugh. Itried to get that out of my mind. I just wanted to play the year like I hadnothing to lose. Just take it back to playing baseball with my brother in thefront yard, swinging a Whiffle ball bat. I told myself, Thats when you playedbecause its fun. Do it for fun again.
Then something serendipitous happened. Outfielder Cody Rosspulled a calf muscle late in the spring while running after a fly ball at TempeDiablo Stadium. He began the year on the disabled list. As a result, the Giantsdecided to beef up their lineup by making Brandon Belt the opening-day firstbaseman.
The shuffle impacted Pill, too. He was about to get squeezedout of Fresno by Belt and journeyman DH Brad Eldred. Instead, suddenly, there was a place for Pill with theGrizzlies. And he made the most of it. Through August, he had a .312 average,25 home runs, 36 doubles, 107 RBIs and an .871 OPS.
Belt returned to Fresno in late April after scuffling in thebig leagues, but Pill didnt lose his opportunity to play. Fresno manager SteveDecker asked him to try taking grounders at second base. Its a thought thatwouldnt have popped into anyones head, except Pill was raking. Decker wantedto keep him in the lineup, somewhere.
I guess I dont really ask questions, Pill said. It wasmy most successful year and it was also the most fun I had. It was, Swinghard. What the heck? Even playing second base. I just said, Ill do this thebest I can. From my first at-bat, I was smiling.
He had plenty more to smile about. At the end of August, theGiants solved a roster logjam by eating millions. They cut Miguel Tejada andAaron Rowand, which freed up space to purchase Pills contract and promote him.
He pledged to have fun there, too. And he did. He became thefirst Giant in a quarter-century to hit a home run in his first major leagueat-bat.
Will the Thrill didnt homer in his second game. Pill the Thrilldid, becoming the 22nd player in major league history to go deep ineach of his first two big league games. They were two of the Giants' brightest momentsin an otherwise disappointing, saddening, injury-wrecked year.
Pill doesnt like to revel in his successes, but after theseason, his parents practically forced him to sit down in front of the TV withthem as they warmed up their DVR.
Sitting there and hearing Vin Scully talk about you, or JonMiller or Krukow and Kuiper wow, Pill said. Its cool to experience that.
Pill is back on the major league side this spring and he isvery much in the running for a key spot on the roster. The feather in his capis his right-handed power a commodity the Giants lack off the bench. Becausehis swing is so simple and easy to maintain, club officials believe he could beproductive in a reserve role.
And thats why were moving him around, to take a look atit, manager Bruce Bochy said. Whether its (Aubrey) Huff, Belt or Pill, werewanting them to look comfortable and make the average play. As a manager, youwant all the options you can get. I dont want to put someone out there if Idont know whether they can catch a routine fly ball.
Pill hasnt been tested thus far. In his first experience inleft field a week ago, he didnt receive a chance. On Thursday, he onlyretrieved a ground single through the left side. He also watched a Mike Carphome run fly over his head.
Playing second base wasnt too uncomfortable because yourestill on the infield, Pill said. But you go out there (to the outfield) andyou realize stuff. Like, Oh, there are fans behind you, and theyre alwaystalking.
The Giants front office is sure to keep talking, too. Tradesare part of spring training especially the final week. Perhaps anotherright-handed bat comes along. Or someone else gets injured and the Giantsdecide theyll need Pills roster spot to provide more coverage at anotherposition.
Pill has minor league options, so he could be sent back toFresno easily enough.
Well have to decide when we break camp, and it wont bedecided until then which way we may go with Brett, Bochy said.
Until then, Pill plans to go where hes told. Smiling allthe while.